LUCKNOW: In an era of religious divide, when even colour gets a communal hue, saffron-wearing Muslim Jogis of eastern Uttar Pradesh symbolise a fading tradition of amity that was a common sight not very long ago.
These ascetics, leading the life of nomadic singers are Muslims and follow the Nath sect— to which UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath belongs to.
If it sounds improbable, listen to Ghiyasuddin playing sarangi and singing couplets from Ramcharitmanas and Kabir's dohe, apart from their own composition in praise of King Gopichand and King Bharthari. Ghiyasuddin belongs to a village near Gorakhpur.
This is their way of life and also the sole source of livelihood. Though they keep moving from place to place singing, many of them lead family lives.
These Jogis are found in villages around Gorakhpur, Maharajganj, Kushinagar, Azamgarh and Balrampur of eastern UP. A common sight till a few years ago, their number is now sharply declining.
"Under pressure from within as well as outside the community, they are now leaving their traditions and the rich cultural legacy they have been carrying on their shoulders so far. Amid rising communal violence and sectarianism, the jogis feel uneasy donning saffron. The young generation looks down upon the practice and view it only as a form of begging. On the other hand, the Hindutva brigade looks at them as a threat because these Muslim yogis practise the philosophy and ideals on which they (Hindu fanatics) have based their politics of hate," says Manoj Singh, a Gorakhpur-based scholar and column writer who has done extensive research on Muslim Jogis of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Nath Sect is said to be formed by Lord Shiva himself.
His disiple Guru Matsyendranath inherited it from him and he passed it on to his disciple Guru Gorakhnath. Noted Hindi writer Hazari Prasad Dwivedi writes in his seminal work on Nath sect Nath Siddhon Ki Rachnayen that during the time of Gorakhnath — around 11th century — there were several upheavals in society.
The arrival of Muslims had started. The Buddhist practices were inclining towards magic and witchcraft. Although the primacy of Brahmin religion had established, there was a large community of Buddhists and Shaivas who did not accept it.
Gorakhnath organised all such groups under one umbrella and led on the path of yoga. Several Muslims joined him too. These Jogis, too, thus became an integral part of the Nath sect and would even visit the Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur till 30s or 40s. However, as the religious chasm started widening, their distance from the temple increased.
But even then they have not left the tradition of singing paean for King Gopichand and King Bharhrahari, the two disciples of Guru Gorakhnath, who left their kingdom to lead the life of ascetics.
Guddi, 45, of Sahjanwa is a Jogi and so is her husband. They have been out on a Jogi tour for the past 14 days.
“We follow Baba Gorakhnath and also practice Islam with five times Namaz. We find no difference between Hindu and Muslim or any other religion,” she said. She has never gone to a school and has learned the philosophy of life from her father and husband.
“The Jogi community is facing dual pressure. Muslims don’t accept us as Muslim and clerics ask us to stop singing Ramayana and also shun the saffron attire. On the other hand, Hindus ask us to either leave Islam or leave the Jogi garb and sarangi. We live under fear and to safeguard us from such people most of the young Jogis have left the tradition,” she says.